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Kenya not taking any chances with wild polio

By Gardy Chacha | August 17th 2016
Director of Medical Services, Dr. Nicholas Muraguri administer polio to young children during the National launch of polio vaccination held in Gilgil Nakuru county. The last vaccine samples that could contain Type 2 polio virus in Kenya were destroyed on July 28 at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)’s Centre for Virus Research in Nairobi. (PHOTO: BONIFACE THUKU/ STANDARD)

The last vaccine samples that could contain Type 2 polio virus in Kenya were destroyed on July 28 at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI)’s Centre for Virus Research in Nairobi.

The exercise was undertaken to comply with the World Health Assembly’s Resolution 68.3’ of May 2015 and to meet the July 31 deadline of containing Sabin type polio virus materials and destruction of any polio virus 2 materials stored in various facilities in the world.

In attendance was Director of Medical Services Dr Jackson Kioko who expressed pleasure that Kenya was upholding international requirements.

The incineration of stocks containing the virus was aimed at forestalling the risk of accidental or deliberate reintroduction of wild polio virus Type 2 or circulating vaccine derived Type 2 polio virus from the laboratory to the communities.

And while the last time wild polio virus Type 2 was diagnosed in the whole world was in 1999, medics are asking that caution should be exercised in prevention of transmission of the virus.

Polio is a highly contagious disease. The virus (Type 1, 2 and 3) attacks the nervous system.

Polio is transmitted from one person to another through contaminated food and water sources.

The virus is present in faecal matter of a patient.

Children younger than five years are the most likely to contract the virus. “Polio Type-2 virus currently is not in existence anywhere in the world; not in a human being and not in the environment,” Dr Peter Borus, a virologist at KEMRI, said. “However, that does not mean that we should rest on our laurels. Remember, both Type 1 and Type 3 haven’t been eliminated yet.”

The last African country to be declared polio-free was Nigeria in 2015. This marked a critical stage for Africa in the fight against the polio virus as the continent seeks to seal off possibilities of an outbreak within its population.

According to World Health Organisation, although eradication of wild polio virus Type 2 has been achieved, it does not mean that the pathogen is completely gone.

Health stakeholders all over the world have to ensure that polio virus Type 2 in its wild, attenuated or vaccine-derived forms is eliminated through destruction of remaining stocks held in laboratories and vaccine production facilities. This is because the risk of the virus being used in bioterrorism is still real.

Dr Borus says that if the current efforts to eliminate polio virus continue with the same vigour, the virus should be no more by 2019.

However, polio Type 1 and polio Type 3 viruses are still found in some parts of the world, notably Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“This means that the virus can still be imported and therefore the world is not 100 per cent safe. The vaccines that are still in existence currently contain both Type 1 and Type 3, but not Type 2,” said Dr Borus.

KEMRI houses the inter-country and national polio reference laboratory within its Centre for Virus Research.

The polio laboratory serves Kenya as well as other countries in the region, including Somalia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Comoros and has been fully accredited as the WHO Global Network of Polio Laboratories.

The stockpiles that were destroyed — also in an earlier burning in February 2016 — of the wild had been stored at the institute since 1999. Dr Kioko said that polio has not been detected in the population since 2013.

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